Nicolò Marzaro prepares for World Debate in South Africa

Joel Barlow High School debate team coach Randall Smith, left, talks with senior Nicolò Marzaro, who qualified for a spot at the World Debate in Durban, South Africa. — Max Sanderson

While debating the topic of “green” building, Joel Barlow High School senior Nicolò Marzaro earned enough points to be named top speaker and a spot at the World Debate in Durban, South Africa.

He was partnered with Barlow senior Cooper D’Agostino, and the team came in first for debating the benefits of using environmentally friendly building codes and guidelines at a recent debate tournament hosted by Loomis Chaffee, a private school.

Nicolò was named first speaker and Cooper was one point behind him, said Nicolò.

The two had one month to prepare for the debate, he said.

“We typically don’t do prepared debates,” he said. “We get the topic, make the case for both sides and then debate one side twice and the other side once. For this debate we chose the affirmative and debated that side twice.”

Nicolò has been a member of the Joel Barlow High School debate team for three years. After taking courses taught by Randall Smith, the debate team coach, Mr. Smith suggested Nicolò join the team.

Nicolò jokingly credits his Italian heritage for his love of arguing, he said.

“Overall it’s a lot of fun, and there is nothing more enjoyable than arguing with people,” he said.

Mr. Smith said that Nicolò is the first of his students to go to the World Debate. This year it is from March 28 to April 5.

“I get to go as well,” said Mr. Smith.

Mr. Smith has been the debate team coach for 10 years, he said.

“It started with three to four girls. Now we’re up to 30 to 40 students,” said Mr. Smith.

With Nicolò going to South Africa, he said, it’s a great way to celebrate the team.

Ever since the team won the debate state championship in 2007, the team has been getting better, he said.

Calling it a “culture of excellence,” Mr. Smith said when younger students join the debate team, they are mentored by the older, more experience debaters and that has helped with their success.

“Winning states was great. It’s like where do you go from there, and now we’re going to the world championship,” said Mr. Smith. “I’ve put a ton of time into the debate team, and to see it evaluated on a global stage — I can’t wrap my head around it.”

Mr. Smith said he is excited to meet other debate team coaches from Hong Kong and England.

To prepare for the World Debate, Nicolò said he is going to practice learning new speaking styles. He said at the World Debate there will be an interpretive reading and persuasive speaking where debaters will have to prepare their argument on the spot or are given a half-hour to prepare.

“I’m going to practice and drill for the next couple of weeks,” he said.

Mr. Smith said that it’s up to his students to research and debate topics.

“I’ll help, but ultimately it’s up to him [Nicolò] to run it. It’s up to him to debate and to make a speech,” said Mr. Smith. “When students have the drive and curiosity, I do little to help them succeed, they do it themselves.”

Nicolò said it hasn’t sunk in yet that he’ll be heading to South Africa in a couple of weeks. He said his parents are both excited for him and his sister wants to go with him.

“I told my friends through text but they didn’t believe me,” he said.

Nicolò said that when he graduates, he’ll continue debate in college, whether the college offers it or not.

“If the college doesn’t offer it, then I’ll start a debate team,” he said.

Mr. Smith said that between now and the World Debate there are five scheduled debates in which Nicolò can practice.

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